Northam Beach Cafe
Northam Beach Café is a newer, more organized, I guess pricier, hawker center than Gurney Drive. I liked having a numbered table because who’s to say you’ll find a seat near where you ordered? The other benefit was a dedicated beer stand where you can get your large sized Tiger beer (we initially grabbed a bottle out of the cooler but the cashier gave us a colder one from behind the counter) and two iced mugs. Two fresh mugs each round. In Thailand they drank ice in their beer, a practice I didn’t encounter in Penang.
And while there appeared to be fewer obvious tourists (I couldn’t identify a Singaporean or Kuala Lumpur resident by sight) the stalls were more international, going well beyond Malaysian classics. What convinced me to try this center in the first place was the supposed presence of a Mexican food stand. That, I needed to see. Unfortunately, it wasn’t there.
German sausages were a close second.
My international maneuver was a mistake. I got excited when I saw the words ihawan and Filipino bbq because in the US that means sweet, smokey meat on sticks. I love it way more than satay. But they only had dinner combos and bbq pork ended up being a few fatty slices or meat drenched in a gooey sauce and served with spaghetti. If you’ve ever encountered sugary, wiener-laden Filipino spaghetti, you’ll know it’s an acquired taste. I’ll eat pig’s blood, shrimp paste and the like, but really do think you have to have to have grown up with this spaghetti it to love it.
Some of that perfectly pleasant satay. Chicken because they were out of mutton.
Gurney Drive has pick-a-mix pasembur where you can choose from plates and plates of fried beige things to be tossed with the sweet potato dressing. Here, you get what they give you. I like the idea of crunchy bits, seafood and vegetables tossed together but it’s bland compared to rojak.
James will almost always order fried chicken when it’s available and it was plentiful in both Malaysia and Thailand. I told him I saw a stand in the back corner. What I didn’t tell him was that it was belcan fried chicken. He thinks that he hates shrimp paste, though I really think he just hates the smell of the block I keep wrapped up in the crisper drawer of our refrigerator. It really isn’t that strong after it’s been cooked, I swear. The funny thing was that he didn’t notice the shrimp paste until the chicken cooled down to room temperature. The fishiness doesn’t hit you over the head, instead adding rich umami undertones.
Mua chee, as they call it, is mochi. Here, steamed glutinous rice blobs drizzled with a peanut sauce. Apparently, offering a variety of flavors is unusual. You can mix two and I had pandan and black sesame. The others were sweetcorn, original and green tea. My only quibble was that the pretty colors don’t show up once peanut-coated and displayed under the night sky.
Northam Beach Café * Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, Penang, Malaysia